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Church and State

Church and State

Elizabeth Stoke Brewing on Whether Religion Ought to Have a Place in Government

Go Lastly, when religion is entirely privatized and politics dominates the public realm totally, there is little with sufficient moral weight to check political hegemony. There is a reason totalitarians seek to swiftly snuff out religious dissenters, and there is also a reason that religions nonetheless endure. The likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were able to resist hegemonic — and unjust — political exercise not out of reserves of private religious virtue, but because they produced religious objections to the evils of their respective states and pressed these cases politically, in public. From this perspective it is easy to imagine why the modern nation-state might insist that religion be privatized and ejected from the public sphere; it should be equally easy to imagine why we should resist that effort.

Patricia Crone on the Islamist View of a Secular State

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The extreme fundamentalists can’t see any difference between living in Egypt, for example, and living under non-Muslim rule, thanks to the all-pervasive influence of the modern state. In the old days the political domain was also worldly and corrupt, but the social domain was still shaped by Islam. Nowadays, however, it is the state that regulates marriage, divorce, inheritance, trade, finance, work, health, childcare, schooling, higher education, and so on, often with attention to what the sharia says, but freely reshaping it to fit modern, secular aims which originate in the infidel and politically dominant west. ¶ So one way or the other, Muslims are ruled by the west wherever they live, not just politically but also socially and culturally. Wherever they look, they are being invaded by so-called western values — in the form of giant billboards advertising self-indulgence, semi-pornographic films, liquor, pop music, fat tourists in indecent clothes and funny hats, and politicians lecturing people about the virtues of democracy. Religion does not actually shape the social realm any more, except rhetorically. All that religion shapes in modern Muslim societies is voluntary associations such as Sufi orders, Muslim brotherhoods, and fundamentalist cells, which fall short of being whole societies, let alone states, and which you can set up in non-Muslim countries too. So in effect, as the fundamentalists see it, all Muslims have become diaspora Muslims.

Miroslav Volf on Religious Exclusivism and Political Pluralism

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The way Christians work toward human flourishing is not by imposing on others their vision of human flourishing and the common good but by bearing witness to Christ, who embodies the good life. Christ has not come with a blueprint for political arrangements; many kinds of political arrangements are compatible with the Christian faith, from monarchy to democracy. But in a pluralistic context, Christ’s command “in everything do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12) entails that Christians grant to other religious communities the same religious and political freedoms that they claim for themselves. Put differently, Christians, even those who in their own religious view are exclusivists, ought to embrace pluralism as a political project.

Miroslav Volf on Why the Religious Should Embrace Political Pluralism

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Will religious communities support a polity in which they can speak in their own religious voices in the public arena and in which the state relates to all communities impartially? Elsewhere I have developed the argument that the monotheism of the Abrahamic faiths in fact favors the pluralistic political arrangements that liberal democracy … represents. Basically, the bare-bones sketch of the argument goes like this: 1) Because there is one God, all people are related to that one God on equal terms. 2) The central command of that one God is to love neighbors — to treat others as we would like them to treat us, as expressed in the Golden Rule. 3) We cannot claim any rights for ourselves and our group that we are not willing to give to others. 4) Whether as a stance of the heart or as outward practice, religion cannot be coerced. If you accept these four propositions, you have good reasons to support pluralism as a political project.

The Economist on Heresy

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To most Western ears, the very idea of punishing heresy conjures up a time four or five centuries ago, when Spanish inquisitors terrorised dissenters with the rack and Russian tsars would burn alive whole communities of ultra-traditionalist Old Believers. Most religions began as heresies. Today the concept of “heresy” still means something. Every community built around an idea, a principle or an aim (from fox-hunting enthusiasts to Freudian psychotherapists) will always face hard arguments about where the boundaries of that community lie, and how far the meaning of its founding axioms can be stretched. But one of the hallmarks of a civilised and tolerant society is that arguments within freely constituted groups, religious or otherwise, unfold peacefully. And if those disputes lead to splits and new groups, that too must be a peaceful process, free of violence or coercion.

Charles Taylor on Three Kinds of Secularity

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What does it mean to say that we live in a secular age? Almost everyone would agree that in some sense we do: I mean the “we” who live in the West, or perhaps Northwest, or otherwise put, the North Atlantic world — although secularity extends partially, and in different ways, beyond this world. … But it’s not clear in what this secularity consists. There are two big candidates for its characterization … The first concentrates on the common institutions and practices — most obviously, but not only, the state. The difference would then consist in this, that wheareas the political organization of all pre-modern societies was in some way connected to, based on, guaranteed by some faith in, or adherence to God, or some notion of ultimate reality, the modern Western state is free from this connection. … Religion or its absence is largely a private matter. The political society is seen as that of believers (of all stripes) and non-believers alike.

Ryan T. Anderson on Liberty in One’s Religious Quest

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One of the hallmarks of religious liberty protections is that they protect people of all faiths, even if their beliefs seem unfounded, flawed, implausible, or downright silly. Recognition of a right to religious freedom does not, however, depend on religious skepticism, relativism, or indifferentism. Rather, it rests on the intelligible value of the religious quest — the activities of seeking to understand the truth about ultimate questions and conforming one’s life accordingly with authenticity and integrity. … [It is not] the idea that “error has rights.” Rather, it recognize[s] that people have rights — including the right to pursue religious truth and, within the limits of justice and the common good, to act on their judgments of what truth demands. All people possess these fundamental rights, even when they are, in some respects, in error.

R. Douglas Geivett on Privatizing Christianity

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She claims that what they believe is their own business. But they should not “evangelize.” They should, in other words, keep their faith to themselves, while she and her kin promote a secular agenda in the resulting vacuum. How convenient for her. ¶ Secularists seek enforcement of the privatization of Christian belief. They do this publicly and generally without censure. But Christian belief is compromised when it is privatized. So the effect of Ms. Gaylor’s missionary enterprise would be the privatization of a faith that is essentially interpersonal and the social advancement of a cult of irreligion that she would not keep to herself.

Ryan T. Anderson on a “Christian Nation”

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First, this phrase “Christian nation” is a famously confusing one. No recognized leader in the so-called “religious right” has ever called for America to be a theocracy or believed it ever was, but this is what Meacham accuses. He asks, “What then does it mean to talk of ‘Christian America’? Evangelical Christians have long believed that the United States should be a nation whose political life is based upon and governed by their interpretation of biblical and theological principles.” Well, if you’re talking about the biblical principles of not slandering, stealing or murdering, then, yes. But I don’t recall any of us ever proposing that it be the law of the land that everyone, say, confess their sins, one to another, or that we lock people up when they chose to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. We do however believe something close to what Meacham himself admits in his article, which he offers as a corrective to people like us. He would have us understand that, “[America’s] foundational documents are the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, not the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament (though there are undeniable connections between them). This way of life is far different from what many overtly conservative Christians would like.” Well, actually not so different. We understand that Christianity had a deep impact on our nation’s founding, its guiding documents and our national growth. Deep, but not singular. We thankfully live in a country of religious freedom.

The Plot to Kill God

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Paul Froese explores the nature of religious faith in a provocative examination of the most massive atheism campaign in human history. That campaign occurred after the 1917 Russian Revolution, when Soviet plans for a new Marxist utopia included the total eradication of all religion. Even though the Soviet Union’s attempt to secularize its society was quite successful at crushing the institutional and ritual manifestations of religion, its leaders were surprised at the persistence of religious belief. Froese’s account reveals how atheism, when taken to its extreme, can become as dogmatic and oppressive as any religious faith and illuminates the struggle for individual expression in the face of social repression.

Os Guinness on the Secularization Thesis

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The salience of religion in our times is a massive stumbling block to much educated opinion in Europe, the United States, and the Western world at large — to what was once called the republic of letters, and which Peter Berger calls "the international faculty club." For one of the cardinal assumptions of intellectual orthodoxy since the Enlightenment, expressed canonically in the secularization theory, is that modernization means secularization, which in turn means that, like Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire cat, religion will slowly disappear from sight as the world modernizes, leaving behind only a vacant grin. ¶ This presumption translates practically into three attitudes that are widely prevalent in educated circles in the West: that religion in the modern world is irrational, archaic, retrograde, and on the way out; that what remains of religion is the leading source of evil and conflict today; and that a central task of politics is to curb the illiberal power of religion, above all in the public square. In short, the idea that religion is a wild card in human affairs is admissible, but the idea that it could play a central and constructive role is absurd. ¶ For any thoughtful student of world affairs who understands the role of religion in American and Western history, or in international affairs today, this view is preposterous.

Os Guinness on the Culture Wars

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To be sure, it is as dangerous to exaggerate the culture wars as it is to minimize them. At the core of these wars is a battle between two sets of elites, with their corresponding battalions of activists, organizations, and supporters. And on most issues, the great majority of Americans find themselves between the two sides, somewhat ambivalent and often confused. But when all the issues have been clarified and matters of style separated from matters of substance, it becomes clear that the issues dividing the traditionalists and the progressives are important and will be decisive for the future of of the republic. They are, after all, disagreements about the very nature and destiny of human beings, so they cannot be swept under the rug. ¶ In short, the issues at the heart of the culture wars will be decisive for the American future, and they will have to be settled — but not in the present, destructive manner.

Os Guinness on French, English, and American Securalism

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Church and state were not officially separated in France until February 21, 1795. But the overall explosion that the corrupt, coercive French establishment ignited against itself created a grand fusion of revolution and irreligion and led to a radical secularization of French public life, so that in France to be progressive still mostly means being secular and to be religious still means being viewed as reactionary. This is a key part of the French mentality that lingers to this day and bedevils the resolution of French conflicts over religion in public life, not to speak of the direction of the European Union. ¶ Astonishingly, too, Roman Catholic writers, from the popes down, who decry the militancy of French secularism today rarely acknowledge that this fierce secularism was bred and developed in direct reaction to their own earlier corruptions and has led to similar outbreaks of murderous anticlericalism elsewhere. These include the vicious Mexican repression of Catholics in the 1920s and the brutal Socialist slaughter of seven thousand priests, nuns, and bishops in Spain in 1936.

Os Guinness on Faith Based Initiatives

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Another example of a flawed understanding of the separation of church and state is George W. Bush’s much-trumpeted but bungled policy of providing government money for what he calls “faith-based initiatives.” Predictably, this initiative was surrounded by controversy from the start and did not live up to its supporters’ hopes. At its best, it was a well-intentioned compliment to the dynamism of faith-based entrepreneurialism in the nineteenth century. The tribute was sincere and the intention laudable — to encourage the voluntarism and dynamic energy that are now recognized as the lifeblood of a healthy civil society, and to foster the little platoons and mediating institutions that are its cells. ¶ But regardless of its political and legal problems, such as the accusations of cronyism and political manipulation, the project was self-defeating as a concept because the close relationship between government and faith-based groups almost inevitably leads, first, to a growing dependency of the faith-based organization on the government, and, eventually, to the effective secularization of the faith-based group. In the words of David Kuo, President George W. Bush’s special assistant for faith-based initiatives, “Between Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services alone, for example, more than $1.5 billion went to faith-based groups every year. But their activity had come at a spiritual cost. They were, as organizations, largely secular.”

David Bentley Hart on the Inevitability of Secularization

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Modernity  is secularization. It is, in its essence, a project of detaching moral, legal, and governmental reasoning from any authority transcendent of the state or the individual. It is the project of an ethics conformed not to divine justice but to human reason and popular consensus; of a politics authorized not by divine ordinance but by the absolute sovereignty of the nation-state; and of a model of freedom based not on the perfection of human nature but on the unconstrained liberty of individual will. ¶ And America is a  modern nation — the first, indeed, explicitly to constitute itself without reference to any sacral institution of its authority. In a nation so formed, nothing was more inevitable than a subtle, chronic antagonism between religious and state authority; and, to secure itself against any rival source of moral legitimacy, such a state was forced continuously to drive religious adherence from the public realm into the private realm of “values” (where, of course, it is free to do what it likes). It scarcely constitutes a kind of fatalism to acknowledge that, for all the enormous virtues of its Constitution, and despite the piety of many of its citizens, America enjoys no miraculous immunity from the logic of modernity.

The 7th Circuit on Atheism and Freedom of Conscience

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The Supreme Court has said that a religion, for purposes of the First Amendment, is distinct from a “way of life,” even if that way of life is inspired by philosophical beliefs or other secular concerns. … A religion need not be based on a belief in the existence of a supreme being (or beings, for polytheistic faiths), … nor must it be a mainstream faith … Without venturing too far into the realm of the philosophical, we have suggested in the past that when a person sincerely holds beliefs dealing with issues of “ultimate concern” that for her occupy a “place parallel to that filled by God in traditionally religious persons,” those beliefs represent her religion. … We have already indicated that atheism may be considered, in this specialized sense, a religion. … The Supreme Court has recognized atheism as equivalent to a “religion” for purposes of the First Amendment on numerous occasions … The Establishment Clause itself says only that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” but the Court understands the reference to religion to include what it often calls “nonreligion.”  … At one time it was thought that this right [referring to the right to choose one’s own creed] merely proscribed the preference of one Christian sect over another, but would not require equal respect for the conscience of the infidel, the atheist, or the adherent of a non-Christian faith such as Islam or Judaism. But when the underlying principle has been examined in the crucible of litigation, the Court has unambiguously concluded that the individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all. … In keeping with this idea, the Court has adopted a broad definition of “religion” that includes non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as theistic ones.

John Tyler on Church and State

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The United States have adventured upon a great and noble experiment, which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent — that of total separation of Church and State. No religious establishment by law exists among us. The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgment. The offices of the Government are open alike to all. No tithes are levied to support an established Hierarchy, nor is the fallible judgment of man set up as the sure and infallible creed of faith. The Mohammedan, if he will to come among us would have the privilege guaranteed to him by the constitution to worship according to the Koran; and the East Indian might erect a shrine to Brahma, if it so pleased him. Such is the spirit of toleration inculcated by our political Institutions… The Hebrew persecuted and down trodden in other regions takes up his abode among us with none to make him afraid. …and the Aegis of Government is over him to defend and protect him. Such is the great experiment which we have tried, and such are the happy fruits which have resulted from it; our system of free governement would be imperfect without it. ¶ The body may be oppressed and manacled and yet survive; but if the mind of man be fettered, its energies and faculties perish, and what remains is of the earth, earthly. Mind should be free as the light or as the air.

Darwinism, Design, and Public Education

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There are two controversies surrounding neo-Darwinian evolution – one scientific about Darwin’s theory itself and the merits of intelligent design theory, and a second over whether our education system should expose students to this controversy. "Darwinism, Design and Public Education" is a stellar volume that will prove to be of great influence and significance in the years ahead, as this debate continues and intensifies. This peer-reviewed book collects several excellent essays that were previously available in separate, difficult-to-find publications, as well as some entirely new scientific material. Leading proponents of design theory, from multiple disciplines, are represented, as are some of the leading critics of design theory. ~ Seth Cooper

Richard John Neuhaus on America and Meaning in History

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One reason American history is no longer told in terms of redemptive purpose is that we no longer think of history itself as having a purpose. History is a matter of this happening and then that happening and then the other thing happening, and who is to say what it all means? As the man said, “History is just one damn thing after another.” The very idea that history should have a meaning strikes many of our contemporaries as highly improbable, maybe even nonsensical. If there is no purpose, there is no meaning. There is, although perhaps only on the surface, something attractively modest about this way of thinking. Especially when it is contrasted with the pride, presumption, and delusions of divinely ordained power that sometimes attended talk about “Christian America.”

The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man

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Dr. Budziszewski begins by turning his criticism on himself, examining the foundations of the nihilism of his early career. Describing the political effects of Original Sin, he shows how man’s suppression of his knowledge of right and wrong corrupts his conscience and accelerates social collapse. The depraved conscience grasps at the illusion of “moral neutrality,” the absurd notion that men can live together without a shared understanding of how things are. After evaluating the political devices, including the American Constitution, by which men have tried in the past to work around the effects of Original Sin, Dr. Budziszewski elucidates the pitfalls of contemporary communitarianism, liberalism, and conservatism. The revenge of conscience is horrifically manifest today in abortion, euthanasia, and suicide, evils brought about by the pollution of good impulses such as pity, prudence, honor, and love. The way out of this confusion, he concludes, is Christianity, a once-prevalent faith whose troubling memory men now suppress along with their knowledge of the natural law. The political responsibility of Christians is somehow to stir up that memory and that knowledge, a daunting task in a world of sound bites and shouting matches. ~ Product Description

Don Eberly on Morality and Politics

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But politics cannot begin to put the conecting tissue back in society. It is ill-equipped to reconstruct traditional moral beliefs. The best policies cannot recover courtship or marriage, make fathers responsible for their children, restore shock or shame where it once existed, or recover legitimate social authority to institutions that have been hollowed out by a pervasive ideology of individual autonomy. The vast majority of moral problems that trouble us cannot be eradicated by law.

Paul Weyrich on Politics and Culture

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The reason, I think, is that politics itself has failed. And politics has failed because of the collapse of the culture. The culture is becoming an ever-wider sewer. We are caught up in a cultural collapse of historic proportions, a collapse so great that it simply overwhelms politics.

Ralph Reed on Religion and Politics

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Politics is not the answer to our national spiritual salvation. Only personal evangelism, marriage enrichment, the rebuilding of a child-centered culture, and spiritual revival can do that… But surrendering politics would essentially condemn future generations to the failed policies of the Left. And make no mistake: without our check, there would be no balance. Our withdrawal would condemn millions in this nation who otherwise might have struggled to maintain our culture. It would send countless more unborn to their premature deaths. It would consign too many children to lives without hope or opportunity in the inner city. It would mean a crushing burden of higher taxes that weighs too heavily on the middle-class families struggling to give their children a chance at the American dream. This we cannot and must not do.

Cal Thomas on Preaching Politics

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Preachers should not be known for condemning others. If God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, what gives them the authority to condemn? If the ordained believe “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases,” they have a biblical mandate not to trash a President they don’t like or mawkishly support one they do admire.

Charles Colson on Religion and Politics

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But if the earlier hope to “save Amerca” was overblown, so too is the current counsel to withdraw from politics — an overreaction against an original overreaction. In the elegant words of Richard Neuhaus, such pessimism “expresses a painful deflation of political expectations that can only be explained by a prior and thoroughly unwarranted inflation.” Were Christians in fact to withdraw, we would simply ride a pendulum swing back to the isolationism of the fundamentalist era.